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Wetlands ExplainedWetland Science, Policy, and Politics in America$
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William M. Lewis

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195131833

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195131833.001.0001

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Once and Future Wetlands

Once and Future Wetlands

Chapter:
(p.127) 8 Once and Future Wetlands
Source:
Wetlands Explained
Author(s):

William M. Lewis

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780195131833.003.0010

A societal conflict as prolonged and complex as the reversal of national policy on wetlands in the United States must contain some lessons for the future. Perhaps we are still too close to the issues to have everything in perspective historically, but two lessons seem obvious. One of these has to do with the channelizing effect of change in public attitudes toward wetlands and the other with the stabilizing effect of science on regulations and policies intended for the protection of wetlands. A look back at the previous chapters suggests that the history of wetland policy in the United States can be divided into three eras: a classical era during which removal was the policy; a modern era during which protection was the policy; and a new era, which appears to be postmodern in the sense that we adjust protection qualitatively in an attempt to make our coexistence with wetlands more comfortable. Politics of the removal era appear to have been relatively tranquil, as congressional action surrounding wetlands developed almost entirely through consultation with a single interest group (i.e., those who saw some economically beneficial potential in federal progams subsidizing or encouraging the removal of wetlands; Tzoumis 1998). The desire for protection, although present in some circles much earlier, became politically potent in parallel with the growth of general public support for environmental legislation. From that time forward, legislation and national policy have consistently been formed in an atmosphere of strongly opposing viewpoints, but the protectionist impulse has prevailed. It seems doubtful now that an open legislative assault on wetland protection would be successful, simply because the public has fully absorbed the idea of protection for about a generation. The fundamental intent of protectionism, however, still could be subverted judicially or administratively; this is the main issue for the future. From 1970 to the present, the politics of wetlands has seemed unstable and even chaotic. Participants in the contest over wetlands typically have viewed the future with a high degree of pessimism. This is especially true for the defenders of wetlands, who fear, and in some cases almost anticipate, reactionary backsliding.

Keywords:   biodiversity

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